The Weekly Wrap | Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

In this edition, we talk about GDP growth and the speeches by the US Fed chief as well as Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani. We also talk about Prashant Jain as he leaves HDFC MF and the advice he shared in his farewell letter.


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Uday Kotak isn’t a very frequent Twitterer. In August, for instance, he sent out only four tweets to his 1.1 million followers. But that’s not surprising considering the billionaire banker is the chief of Kotak Mahindra Group, one of India’s biggest financial services conglomerates. 


And, unlike many other celebrity-CEOs, he usually tweets on subjects that are well within his wheelhouse—banking, economy, markets and finance. In his most recent tweet this Monday, India’s richest banker reacted to a speech made three days before by the world’s most powerful banker thousands of miles away.


“Federal Reserve Chairman Powell finally spoke firmly to fight inflation. Reminds us of Paul Volcker who broke the back of US inflation in 70s/80s,” Kotak said. “Watch out for Quantitative Tightening (QT). [The] US rules the financial world. Opiated markets will wake up and smell the coffee!” he said in the tweet.


Kotak was referring to current US Fed chief Jerome Powell’s speech at the annual Jackson Hole symposium in Wyoming, US, late last week. In his speech, Powell reiterated that the Fed would keep tightening its monetary policy to control inflation and dashed hopes of many investors and analysts who were hoping he would slow down.


Powell’s speech did indeed slam the brakes on the stock market rally, at least in the US. The S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq, which had surged 19% and 25%, respectively, from mid-June to mid-August, ended August in the red.


How have India markets performed? The BSE Sensex gained 3% in August, after jumping 8.9% in July. In these two months, the 30-stock index recovered the 9.5% loss it had suffered during the April-June quarter.


Where are markets headed now? Well, the US markets may have already smelled the coffee, with more voices of caution than before. Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of Boston-based investment firm GMO, has already warned of a “superbubble” that’s about to burst after the recent rally lured many investors back into the market. 


In India, the land of the tea drinkers, it may take a little while for us to wake up.



Wake-up call


Talking about waking up, policymakers and economy-watchers received a rude jolt this week when data showed India’s gross domestic product grew 13.5% in the fiscal first quarter (April-June). 


Some people pointed out that this is the quickest pace of expansion in a year and makes India the fastest-growing economy in the world. Here are some other things that need to be pointed out:


  • The Q1 expansion comes on the back of a lower base because India was battling the deadly second wave of Covid-19 in April-June 2021.


  • The size of India’s economy in Q1 FY23 was only 3.8% higher than the size in Q1 FY20, before the pandemic.


  • Q1 growth misses the Reserve Bank of India’s projection for 16.2% as also the forecast of most analysts. 


  • Growth will slow sharply in coming quarters—the RBI’s estimate currently is for 6.2% in Q2, 4.1% in Q3 and 4.0% in Q4. 


The lower-than-expected Q1 print means overall FY23 growth could miss the RBI forecast of 7.2%. 


Anyone remembers the government’s own forecast? On January 31, the Economic Survey tabled in Parliament projected FY23 growth at 8.0-8.5%. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week talked about 7.4% growth.


However, many analysts have started cutting their forecasts. State Bank of India slashed its FY23 growth forecast to 6.8% from 7.5%. Citigroup cut its projection to 6.7% from 8% and Goldman Sachs pared it to 7% from 7.2%.


Either the authorities know what analysts don’t or it’s time for policymakers to smell the coffee and wake up.



Planning ahead


One person you would never find sleeping—figuratively, of course—is Mukesh Ambani. The billionaire chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd addressed shareholders this week at the company’s annual general meeting. Reliance’s AGM is widely followed as Ambani often announces new ventures or business strategies. This year, however, he outlined a succession plan for the group.


As per the plan, Ambani’s elder son Akash will lead the digital business housed in Reliance Jio. Akash’s twin sister, Isha, will head Reliance’s retail empire. Their younger sibling, Anant, has joined the new energy business. 


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“Akash and Isha have assumed leadership roles in Jio and retail, respectively. They have been passionately involved in our consumer businesses since inception. Anant has also joined our new energy business with great zeal. In fact, he is spending most of his time in Jamnagar,” said Ambani, 65.


The succession plan gains even more importance because Ambani’s father, Dhirubhai Ambani, had died without a will, triggering an ugly public and legal battle between Mukesh and younger brother Anil. 


Mukesh, who has led Reliance for two decades, is thinking decades ahead and isn’t taking any chances this time.



Campa Cola is back!


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Apart from the AGM, Reliance was in the news this week for its purchase of the soft drink brand Campa from Delhi-based Pure Drinks Group.


Those who grew up in the 1990s would recall that Campa Cola, along with Thums Up, Gold Spot and Limca, were the dominant cola brands at the time. While Thums Up and Limca were bought by Coca-Cola Company and flourished, Campa and Gold Spot faded away.


Reliance now plans to relaunch Campa as part of efforts to grow its FMCG business. Can Campa Cola compete with Coke and Pepsi? We will drink to that.


Moving on


The week gone by marked the departure of Prashant Jain as HDFC Mutual Fund’s Chief Investment Officer. 


Jain had resigned in July after working with the company for almost two decades. 


Jain was one of the world’s longest-serving fund managers and is a big proponent of value investing. He managed HDFC Balanced Advantage Fund and HDFC Flexi Cap Fund, which have bounced back in recent years, as well as the HDFC Top 100 large-cap fund.


In his farewell letter this week, Jain shared the lessons he learnt over time and offered a piece of advice.


He talked about the ‘Pareto Principle’, which states that typically 20% of the effort gives 80% of the results and vice versa. He said that he invested in 465 stocks in the three funds he managed. One in four stocks lost money. Of the total net gains of about Rs 87,000 crore, 55 stocks accounted for a gain of Rs 74,000 crore, that is 85% of total. “If only one had the wisdom of avoiding 90% of the investments and instead invested more in the 55 stocks!” he said.


Jain said that stock markets are reasonably efficient over long periods and that it is important to stay the course. He also said that equity investors must have patience in order to reap returns. “Equities are a generous asset class. The tailwind of a growing economy and growing companies overshadows mistakes of timing and security selection in diversified portfolios in most cases over long periods. The key is patience to stay invested for long periods,” he said.



Market wrap and FPI-MF tango


Indian markets oscillated between gains and losses in the holiday-shortened week. Stocks fell on Monday, reacting to Fed chief Powell’s speech, but bounced back the following day ahead of the Ganesh Chaturthi holiday. The markets began September with a loss but edged up on Friday to end the week more or less flat.


Among the Nifty50 stocks, Bajaj Finserv was the top gainer. It was followed by Tata Consumer, Mahindra & Mahindra and Titan. Hindalco and Infosys were among the top losers.


Meanwhile, foreign portfolio investors—among the driving force of Indian equities—have made a big-bang re-entry. FPIs made net investments of Rs 51,204 crore, or about $6.4 billion, in local stocks during August. This is the highest monthly amount they have poured into Indian equities since December 2020. 


While FPIs turned bullish, Indian mutual funds became cautious as valuations remained high. MFs were net sellers of Rs 1,642 crore in equities in August, the highest outflow in 17 months, SEBI data show. To put things in perspective, MFs were net buyers of stocks worth Rs 37,799 crore in May, Rs 22,051 crore in June and Rs 4,712 crore in July.



Other headlines:


  • Adani Enterprises to join the NSE Nifty 50 index, replacing Shree Cement
  • Starbucks appoints Indian-origin Laxman Narasimhan as new CEO
  • Govt increases windfall profit tax on diesel, ATF export; raises tax on domestic crude
  • ICICI Bank, PNB, Bank of India increase interest rates on loans
  • Franklin Templeton collects nearly Rs 800 crore for its balanced advantage fund
  • GST collections spike 28% over last year to Rs 1.44 lakh crore in August
  • Starbucks appoints Indian-origin Laxman Narasimhan as new CEO
  • Manufacturing PMI cools to 56.2 in August, but stays in growth zone for 14th month
  • IMF announces $2.9 bn bailout for Sri Lanka



Until next week, happy investing!



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